England reaches Euro 2024 final after last-gasp winning goal against the Netherlands

Ollie Watkins’ brilliant last-gasp winner earned England a 2-1 win over the Netherlands and a place in Sunday’s Euro 2024 final.

The Netherlands took an early lead thanks to Xavi Simons’ long-range rocket, but England hit back almost immediately as captain Harry Kane levelled the scores from the penalty spot.

Chances were few and far between in the second half and it took until the first minute of added time for England to find the winner, with substitute Watkins stunning the Dutch.

It’s the first time in history that England has reached a major final on foreign soil and the team – as well as manager Gareth Southgate – now has the chance to atone for that heart-breaking defeat in the final to Italy three years ago.

Awaiting England in Sunday’s final is the formidable foe of Spain, which has been unequivocally the best team of Euro 2024 so far.

Match-winner Watkins said he has been “waiting for weeks” for that moment, with his goal set up by Cole Palmer, who was another English subsitute.

“I swear on my life, my kid’s life, I said to Cole Palmer: ‘We’re coming on today and you’re going to set me up.’ That’s why I was so happy with Coley. I knew as soon as he got the ball, he was going to play me.

“When I saw it go in the bottom corner, it was the best feeling ever. There’s been a lot of criticism and at the end of the day we’re in the final and that’s all that matters. Forget all the outside noise, we’re in the final.

“We’ve got that bounce back factor, going a goal behind. We never give up. We’ve won on penalties, come from behind. One more game, one more game,” added Watkins, referring to Sunday’s final

Three Lions roar again

England, like many of the so-called bigger nations, has struggled to find any sort of form at Euro 2024.

Despite a vast array of talented attacking players – some among the best in the world – for many England fans watching Gareth Southgate’s side has frequently made for tough viewing.

The team – which only finished top of a weak group by the skin of its teeth - has been described as negative and defensive, the passing telegraphed and the movement plodding.

England reached the semifinal thanks to moments of individual brilliance, first Jude Bellingham and then Bukayo Saka bailing the Three Lions out in their two previous knockout games at the tournament.

The Netherlands has similarly struggled in Germany and only reached the knockout stages as one of the four best third-placed teams, while they needed to come from behind to beat Turkey in the quarterfinals.

Simons gave the Netherlands an early lead. - Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Simons gave the Netherlands an early lead. - Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Nevertheless, tournament football is about one thing only: lifting the trophy. Fans of both nations would forgive any number of dull performances if their team brings home the Henri Delaunay Cup on Sunday.

Immediately, though, this semifinal in Dortmund was more riveting than any game either of the two teams had played at Euro 2024.

After only seven minutes, Simons – named after Barcelona great Xavi Hernández – dispossessed Declan Rice in midfield and stormed towards the England penalty area, before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Jordan Pickford and into the top corner.

Now England had no choice but to attack – something that hasn’t come easy for Southgate’s side in Germany – and found the equalizer just 10 minutes later.

After Kane’s acrobatic effort flew over the crossbar, replays showed Denzel Dumfries’ studs caught Kane on the top of his foot and, after an intervention from VAR, referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot.

Kane drew England level from the penalty spot. - OZAN KOSE/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Kane drew England level from the penalty spot. - OZAN KOSE/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Kane, who missed a crucial penalty for England against France in the quarterfinals of the Qatar World Cup in 2022, confidently drilled his penalty low into the bottom corner.

Dumfries then saved the Netherlands from going behind as he was in the right place and the right to deny Phil Foden’s effort on the line, before thumping a header off the crossbar at the other end.

Foden, who was having by far his best game of the tournament, then hit the woodwork himself as the post denied the Manchester City forward a stunning curled effort.

England was no doubt the dominant team in a riveting first half, which raised the question: Where has this kind of performance been all tournament? Passes were being drilled into feet with purpose, runs were incisive, and players were looking to shoot at every opportunity.

If there’s a time to find some form, it’s in the semifinal of a major international competition and England fans will have gone into half-time feeling optimistic about their team’s chances in the second half.

But Ronald Koeman tightened up his midfield at the start of the second period, limiting the space England had enjoyed and exploited so successfully in the first half.

England passes were once again mostly backwards and sideways in front of a comfortable Netherlands defense as Southgate and his players looked short of ideas.

Watkins made himself the hero for England. - Piroschka Van De Wouw/REUTERS/REUTERS
Watkins made himself the hero for England. - Piroschka Van De Wouw/REUTERS/REUTERS

Fortunately for England, the Netherlands were also not posing much of a threat and neither goalkeeper had very much to do - until Watkins broke Dutch hearts.

The Aston Villa striker received the pass from Palmer with his back to goal and Stefan de Vrij in close attendance, but created just enough space to drill a brilliant effort across goal and into the bottom corner.

England has known little more than disappointment and heartbreak since winning the World Cup in 1966, Southgate more than most. Now the team has another chance to end 58 years of hurt.

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